World Cup Soccer in Orlando

Orlando City Soccer’s new stadium shows the (World) Cup spills over in Florida and across the region.

The Orlando City Soccer Club in mid-June unveiled the artist’s rendering of the team’s new stadium. The $110 million venue will feature covered seating for most fans and an open courtyard offering passersby a glimpse of the action.

The stadium will seat 19,500 when it opens in 2016, but is expandable to 25,000. For Lions fans paying top price, there will be 38 luxury suites, a club lounge and a balcony bar. The facility’s playing surface will be below street level, and the stadium will feature a giant, rotating lion sculpture that faces the approaching crowd before the match begins and then rotates to “view” the field.

“We’ve visited dozens of stadiums around the world … and we’ve taken what we believe to be the very best of those and incorporated them into what I believe will be a fantastic downtown stadium,” said team President Phil Rawlins during the unveiling.

The team, which also unveiled a new logo — prominent on the stadium rendering — will play the 2015 season in the Florida Citrus Bowl stadium before moving to its new home. There’s the possibility of  hosting the Major League Soccer All-Star game within a few years. Also, Orlando City has signed Brazilian midfielder Kaká as its first designated player. The Lions are expected to loan the 2007 World Player of the Year to his home club São Paulo before they begin MLS play.

Florida & the World Cup. The U.S. Men’s National Team that competed at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil had a decidedly Florida flavor. Four players on the final 23-man roster were from the Sunshine State, and two were from the Super Region.

Super Region players on the team were Julian Green of Tampa and Graham Zusi of Longwood, both midfielders. Green plays for Bayern Munich, a top-tier German soccer league franchise that is the most successful in German history, while Zusi plays for Sporting Kansas City (MLS). The other two Floridians were Jozi Altidore, a forward from Boca Raton, and Alejandro Bedoya, a midfielder from Weston. Altidore plays for Sunderland in the prestigious English Premier League, and Bedoya plays for Nantes in France.

No other state had as many players on the final World Cup roster, and Florida’s influence on the national team bodes well for MLS’ impending return to Florida. As noted, Orlando City SC begins play next year; David Beckham’s Miami team is scheduled to join the league in 2017. Here’s another promising fact: During the Ghana vs. U.S. World Cup match (won by the U.S.), Orlando finished eighth among ESPN’s top TV markets.

Game, Set and Match. Most observers say American tennis is in a rut with no clear successors to past American tennis legends. The next generation of stars will emerge eventually, and it’s a pretty safe bet they will emerge from the Super Region.

people playing tennis in tropics

In mid-May, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) announced plans to build a $60 million facility on 63 acres at Lake Nona. The center, scheduled to open by 2016, will feature more than 100 courts — intended to create a central home for USTA’s player development and community tennis programs.

State, county and city leaders provided tax incentives and a lucrative 30-year lease from the Tavistock Group, Lake Nona’s developer, that will cost the USTA $1 annually. 

“I think we can honestly say we have become the sports mecca in the United States,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer at the ceremony announcing the new center.

Billed as the “new home of American tennis,” the facility also will host league matches and collegiate tennis tournaments, and become home to the UCF men’s and women’s tennis teams.

The center will employ about 150 people, some of whom will be relocating from existing facilities in New York and Boca Raton. In landing the USTA center, Orlando beat out locations in North Carolina and other parts of Florida.

“This USTA deal is meant to ignite the sports and human-performance cluster in the same way the UCF Medical School and Sanford-Burnham ignited Medical City,” Rasesh Thakker, managing director of Tavistock, said during the announcement. (See related USTA article on Page 56.)

UF Wins It All.  Gator fans may have suffered through a tough football season and seen the men’s basketball team fall just short at the Final Four, but the school’s athletic program enjoyed a measure of redemption in May when the University of Florida softball team won the Women’s College World Series.

In beating Southeastern Conference rival Alabama, 6-3, in the championship game, the Gators did more than bring home another national title for UF’s crowded trophy case. They demonstrated how the explosion of riches in the big-revenue sports has benefited all student athletes at the school.

For the 2014-15 academic year, UF’s athletic budget will be a record $103.3 million (none which comes from state funds). By comparison, its athletic expenditures were less than $80 million seven years ago. Most of the cash comes from lucrative television contracts for football and men’s basketball but —spurred in part by Title IX — UF and other schools have spread the wealth among women’s (and men’s) sports that otherwise could not afford
to offer as many full scholarships. The result is a wider range of sports options for students and fans, as well as enhanced athletic facilities. Most recently, UF announced plans for a $45 million renovation to the 34-year-old O’Connell Center (arena), beginning in March 2015.

In the end, though, UF’s softball championship was more about the human spirit than it was money. In one of the more poignant stories of this sports year, the team dedicated its title run to honorary team member Heather Braswell, a 17-year-old who had died 10 weeks earlier from brain cancer.

*This article was printed as “Lion’s Share.”